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Free dental clinic in Addison County hits its stride

MIDDLEBURY — Around 17 months into its run, the Open Door Clinic’s dental program is serving a lot of patients with a bare-bones budget, thanks to the help of many area dentists who are donating their services for free.
Clinic officials did a lot of preliminary planning for the dental program in 2015 and hired dental hygienist Heidi Considine to begin seeing patients in April of 2016.
Considine and participating dentists saw 53 patients last year, surpassing their collective goal of 50. And the program has served 95 patients so far this year, according to ODC Executive Director Heidi Sulis. Considine and the member-dentists have performed a combined total of 410 procedures on those 93 patients, many of them migrant farm workers who have never before received dental care, according to Considine.
“The dental need (for them) is great and requires multiple appointments to get their dental health into a maintenance place,” she said. “So I can see a patient anywhere from one to five times before smooth healing can take place.”
The clinic was able to secure $31,520 for equipment and software to start the dental program. Its annual operating budget of around $13,000 is largely associated with paying Considine’s part-time salary. She works 10 hours per week at the job, primarily on Mondays. Her job includes meeting patients in the field — often on a farm.
“Most of our patients will go through the medical clinic first, and then come and see me,” Considine said. “But I visit farms and if there is a person on the farm who isn’t a patient of ours and would like me to check their teeth, I have an easy form I can have them fill out so I can put them in the system when I get back (to the clinic).”
As with the ODC’s medical services, the dental program is for area residents who are uninsured or underinsured. Patients are asked to make appointments by calling 388-0137.
The current roster of ODC dentists includes members of Middlebury Dental Group, including Dr. Peter Hopper and Dr. Adam Fasoli, the ODC’s volunteer dental director; Drs. Harvey Green, Erik Koskinen and Andrew Daly, also of Middlebury; Dr. Jim Cossart of Bristol; and Drs. Derek Cimler and David Congalton of Vergennes.
Sulis is applying for grants to make sure the dental program has funding after April 2018.
She said she will continue to aggressively seek funding, though grants are becoming more limited and therefore subject to more competition.
“It feels very challenging, and it is a very difficult (fundraising) environment right now,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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